from the world's big
How to deal when things fall apart
Glenn Albrecht has ideas about how to cope with the effects of a changing world: Invent a new language.
- In Earth Emotions, Australia philosopher Glenn Albrecht provides a blueprint for dealing with emotional turmoil resulting from climate change.
- Technology has many wonderful applications, but distraction and entertainment cannot be the foundation of our devices.
- Time remains for preparing to deal with the consequences of climate change, if we act now.
Beginning an article by listing recent damages attributable to climate change is useless at this point. Every month more records are being smashed as further evidence piles up proving that the cost of human comfort and luxury is too expensive for the environment to bear. To borrow a metaphor from sports, we keep moving the goalpost and are only now beginning to reckon with the fact that we're running out of stadium.
We talk often about environmental impact, but what about the emotional cost of our damaged relationship to nature? Two weeks ago I published an article on the psychoterratic effects of climate change, a term coined by the Australian philosopher, Glenn Albrecht. Half a world away, he came across the article and reached out to thank me. Naturally, I requested an interview, which he graciously granted. (I suggest listening to it here, as the Q&A below only features about a third of the territory we covered.)
Albrecht is the author of Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, an essential blueprint for a changing species dealing with a rapidly changing world. While Albrecht has coined many terms, we begin our discussion with his most famous invention, solastalgia:
"The pain or distress caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one's home and territory. It is the lived experience of negative environmental change. It is the homesickness you have when you are still at home."
All life is transient. This we know from millennia of Buddhist thought. Dealing with it is the precise challenge Siddhartha put forward to the world. Naval gazing was never the only option, nor the most effective. Humans are more emotionally stable when we grapple with the reality of our environment, when we get dirt under our fingernails. Glenn Albrecht has written a manual for the future, but we need to read — and more importantly, apply — it now.
TEDxSydney - Glenn Albrecht - Environment Change, Distress & Human Emotion Solastalgia
Derek: You coined the term "solastalgia" in 2003. I watched your TEDxSydney talk in 2010 on the same topic. It's been almost a decade since that talk. What has changed since that time?
Glenn: The conditions that are conducive to the experience of solastalgia have intensified and grown globally. Not only the climate change issue but also the scale and pace of development has cranked up to an extraordinary degree. It doesn't surprise me that the word has become much more well-known. Indeed, it has been adopted by artists of many different kinds to try and give expression to the anxiety, dread, nausea, and despair of the early 21st century.
Derek: Before reading your book, I came across Robert Macfarlane's book, Landmarks. It really opened my eyes to the necessity of how we use language. Why does language matter in how we understand our relationship to the environment?
Glenn: Robert Macfarlane is a master wordsmith and somebody who knows his culture and his language intimately. He's a multifaceted thinker. One of the major things is the recovery of language, which is being lost in a world which is transforming so rapidly that the old words for the way that humans have culturally and bio-physically evolved are being lost. He's reviving them and putting them back into the language.
My own work has been based on the realization that in some respects, our cultural and technological evolution has taken us into a new world. This new world is one that we've not biologically or culturally evolved with. It's one that is now representing a distinct break from the past. As such, the need for new words and new concepts that describe this new world is beyond our evolutionary experience. We absolutely must come up with the linguistic equivalence of the technological and biological changes that we're forcing on the world. We're colonizing the world in a way that's generating radical and rapid change.
Derek: Bill Bryson wrote a travel book on Australia. The first few pages are solely dedicated to all of the things that can kill you in Australia that don't exist anywhere else on the planet. Growing up in your neighborhood, you had to watch out for poisonous snakes and other deadly animals. As more of humanity congregates in cities, however, we seem to keep nature out as much as possible.
Glenn: Another colleague of mine has written extensively about nature deficit disorder in children. The whole idea of this withdrawal from nature is part of the problem of the Anthropocene. It's accelerating rapidly with the advent of technology that acts as some kind of mediator between human perception and the real world. We even see now that people would rather not take nature in with their eyes and feast on it, but rather take a digital photo of it. I find that really bizarre because the experience of raw nature is so much more powerful than looking at a tiny little screen version of it.
That we have to be looking at everything through cameras is an expression of the profound alienation that humans now have between themselves and raw nature. I call it ecoagnosy—the complete lack of knowledge about what it is that constitutes the foundations of life. As life and nature very rudely reasserts itself into the lives of humans in the form of catastrophic damage through climate change or the complete loss of aspects of life necessary for us to remain strong and healthy, we will return to a renewed relationship to unmediated nature. Instead of nature embracing us, we are now having nature crushing us in her arms. That's not the kind of future that I want.
Greta Thunberg speaks on stage during NYC Climate Strike rally and demonstration at Battery Park.
Photo by Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Derek: How do you educate people to get them off of their devices and back out into the world?
Glenn: I worked for a couple of decades at the University of Newcastle teaching environmental ethics and values and environmental policy to science students. I also had the pleasure of taking a class out to go birdwatching. Birdwatching was actually a serious part of an environmental management course, where the students had to learn how to do an environmental impact assessment. Being the only person that knew anything about birds in the university, I undertook the task of trying to teach these students. It didn't take me long to realize that this is a class that, even without distractions and mobile phones, had no idea how to understand what was going on around them.
I had to start from square one, which was to close your eyes and to listen and then tell me what you can hear. Then I had to get them to open their eyes and start connecting the sounds of birds to the form and shape of birds. Then it was to connect them to the habitat of birds. And so it went on. I realized that to connect with nature is something that is innate in humans, but given the fact that we now live in cities and urban complexes, it has to be taught. Once you've been turned on, it's very difficult to not notice it, and it becomes part of the pattern and regularity of a person's life.
Derek: Amitav Ghosh wrote a book, The Great Derangement, about climate change. You have your own experiences with mining in Australia and working with communities fighting back against the mines. At the end of his book, Ghosh came to the conclusion that individual effort matters, but until we change legislation and corporate structure we're not really going to make any headway. How does one effectively fight corporations backed by a government?
Glenn: The only way that I've been able to do it is to help people in communities that are affected by mining by being an expert witness in court cases. I've written about the work I'd done as a pro bono expert witness for the citizens of Bulga, a community badly affected by the expansion of an open pit coal mine in the Upper Hunter of New South Wales. Much to my amazement and delight, we have seen the courts begin to respect basic things like the right to amenity, the right for people to not have their lives disrupted in ways that are catastrophic to health, both physical and psychic.
The Bulger case was one where we won in the courts; we had an appeal and we won that as well. But then the state government of New South Wales changed the law so that the mine could go ahead. To have people follow the rule of law, to have decisions made in their favor, and then to change the laws so that the previous decisions can be overturned was a denial of justice in every sense of the word.
The only other thing that gives me hope is that a new generation, which I call generation Symbiocene, would arise and start to simply rebel against what's obviously not in their interests. If Greta Thunberg didn't exist, I would've had to have invented her. The extinction rebellion movement worldwide is something that I take great hope in. It's almost a euphemism now to say it's at a tipping point, but it's critically unbalanced at the moment, and it can go either way.
Aerial photo taken on Sept. 1, 2017 shows flooded houses after Hurricane Harvey attacked Houston, Texas, the United States.
Xinhua/Yin Bogu via Getty Images
Derek: You write about placelessness. As augmented reality and virtual reality become more popular, do you think that we're going to see more placelessness, that emotion of yearning as technology advances?
Glenn: It could be a blessing in the sense that if the invisible world is made visible to us through augmented and virtual technologies, that that could be the key to shifting our focus from the big church, big man, big tree view of life. If, on the other hand, the technology distracts us, entertains us without educating us, then that's just part of the alienation that we've already started to explore in this conversation.
There are creative things that nobody has thought of yet. That's part of education for the Symbiocene. I issue it as a challenge to creative people. I remain hopeful that this process of using the best of our technology to illuminate, educate, and inspire is where that technology can be taken. If it's going to be taken into yet another version of Disneyland, you already know what I think of that.
Derek: I'm a director at a blockchain company. You make a passing dig at blockchain in the book, but you also know that technology can aid us in this fight. What are some technological applications that can help us get back in touch?
Glenn: Being a philosopher, I'm limited in the design, engineering, and technological breakthroughs that are needed here. But let me just defend blockchain for a second. In the book I do indicate case studies of local, renewable energy systems that can be shared and traded using blockchain accounting. I did see small-scale applications as being viable and also a significant part of a future where decentralized energy can be bought, traded, and shared. It's only the Bitcoin aspects of blockchain that worried me because, as many people have pointed out, if allowed to go unchecked, it will succeed as a technology that could wipe out the energy resources of the whole planet in a relatively short period of time.
At the right scale, blockchain accounting is obviously a wonderful new and creative addition to clock, track, and locate things. There are other advancements, such as substitutes for petroleum-based apparel in clothing and fashion. We're making leather out of fungi. People can produce significant amounts of electricity using microbes that are built into the structure of the walls of the house.
This is not some kind of imaginary future that may or may not happen. This is something that's happening now based on the very principles that have come out of science with respect to life, evolution, and symbiosis. It's not based on etiology. It's based on Science (with a capital S). These things are proceeding at a rapid pace and being held back only by things like fossil fuel subsidies and the failure of contemporary governments to not invest in the future.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
The achievement is an important milestone in quantum computing, Google's scientists said.
- Sycamore is a quantum computer that Google has spent years developing.
- Like traditional computers, quantum computers produce binary code, but they do so while utilizing unique phenomena of quantum mechanics.
- It will likely be years before quantum computing has applications in everyday technology, but the recent achievement is an important proof of concept.
How quantum computers differ from traditional computers<p>Like traditional computers, quantum computers produce binary code to execute computing functions. But instead of using transistors to represent the ones and zeroes, as traditional computers do, quantum computers like Sycamore use quantum bits, or "qubits."</p><p>Qubits are extremely tiny pieces of hardware that act like subatomic particles, utilizing quantum phenomena like entanglement, superposition, and interference. Qubits can represent ones and zeroes. But thanks to superposition, qubits are also able to represent multiple states at the same time, meaning they can make calculations much faster than traditional computers. That's what helped Sycamore recently outperform a supercomputer.</p><p>Sycamore achieved "quantum supremacy," which occurs when a quantum computer can do something that a traditional computer cannot. To pass this benchmark, Google engineers pit Sycamore against the world's leading supercomputer, Summit, which is housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.</p><p>"Summit is currently the world's leading supercomputer, capable of carrying out about 200 million billion operations per second," William Oliver, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03173-4" target="_blank">"News and Views" piece</a> for <em>Nature</em>.</p><p>But the contest between Sycamore and Summit involved a highly specific task, one that was specifically designed to give a competitive edge to a quantum computer like Sycamore.</p>
Beating the world's leading supercomputer<p>The task involved estimating how likely it was that a processor would produce some "bitstrings" more often than others. As you continue to add information to the equation, it becomes exponentially difficult for traditional computers to conduct the calculations. (You can read more about the experiment <a href="https://ai.googleblog.com/2019/10/quantum-supremacy-using-programmable.html" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p><p>"We performed a fixed set of operations that entangles 53 qubits into a complex superposition state," Ben Chiaro, a graduate student researcher in the Martinis Group, which conducted the experiment, told <em><a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191023133358.htm" target="_blank">Science Daily</a></em>. "This superposition state encodes the probability distribution. For the quantum computer, preparing this superposition state is accomplished by applying a sequence of tens of control pulses to each qubit in a matter of microseconds. We can prepare and then sample from this distribution by measuring the qubits a million times in 200 seconds."</p><p>"For classical computers, it is much more difficult to compute the outcome of these operations because it requires computing the probability of being in any one of the 2^53 possible states, where the 53 comes from the number of qubits -- the exponential scaling is why people are interested in quantum computing to begin with," Brooks Foxen, another graduate student researcher in the Martinis Group, told <em>Science Daily</em>. "This is done by matrix multiplication, which is expensive for classical computers as the matrices become large."</p><p>But the specific nature of this task has led some to question the utility of quantum computers like Sycamore.</p><p>"One criticism we've heard a lot is that we cooked up this contrived benchmark problem—[Sycamore] doesn't do anything useful yet," Hartmut Neven, a Google engineering director said at a press event on Wednesday. "That's why we like to compare it to a Sputnik moment. Sputnik didn't do much either. All it did was circle Earth. Yet it was the start of the Space Age."</p>
A proof of concept for quantum computing<p>Although it could be decades until we see quantum computing powering everyday devices, Sycamore serves as a proof of concept that there exists a form of computing that has the potential to be vastly superior to traditional computing.</p><p>"This demonstration of quantum supremacy over today's leading classical algorithms on the world's fastest supercomputers is truly a remarkable achievement and a milestone for quantum computing," Oliver wrote in his piece for <em>Nature</em>. "It experimentally suggests that quantum computers represent a model of computing that is fundamentally different from that of classical computers. It also further combats criticisms about the controllability and viability of quantum computation in an extraordinarily large computational space (containing at least the 253 states used here)."</p>
A study published Friday tested how well 14 commonly available face masks blocked the emission of respiratory droplets as people were speaking.
- The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
- The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
- Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Fischer et al.<p>A smartphone camera recorded video of the participants, and a computer algorithm counted the number of droplets they emitted. To establish a control trial, the participants spoke into the box both with and without a mask. And to make sure that the droplets weren't in fact dust from the masks, the team conducted more tests by "repeatedly puffing air from a bulb through the masks."</p>
Fischer et al.<p>The results, published Friday in <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/08/07/sciadv.abd3083" target="_blank">Science Advances</a>, showed that some masks are pretty much useless. In particular, neck fleeces (also called gaiters) actually produced more respiratory droplets compared to the control trial — likely because the fabric breaks down big droplets into smaller ones.</p><p>The top three most effective masks were N95 respirators, surgical masks, and polypropylene-cotton masks. Bandanas performed the worst, but were slightly better than wearing no mask at all.</p>
Fischer et al.<p>Research on mask efficacy is still emerging. But the new results seem to generally align with <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">prior tests</a>. For example, a study from June published in <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Physics of Fluid</a> found that bandanas (followed by folded handkerchiefs) were least effective at blocking respiratory droplets. That same study also found, as <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">others have</a>, that masks made from multiple layers of quilter's fabric were especially effective at blocking droplets.</p><p>The researchers hope other institutions will conduct similar experiments so the public can see how well different masks can block the spread of COVID-19.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is a very powerful visual tool to raise awareness that a very simple masks, like these homemade cotton masks, do really well to stop the majority of these respiratory droplets," Fischer told CNN. "Companies and manufacturers can set this up and test their mask designs before producing them, which would also be very useful."</p>
Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.
- The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
- Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
- Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
Real ways you can help stop child trafficking<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21fc2dc85391501eec28c4bf46d7db15"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AXL0q9jNZGU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Williams is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.seenandheard.org/" target="_blank">Seen and Heard</a>, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps foster youth develop character through the performing arts. She's been involved with foster youth for years; I <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/child-sex-trafficking" target="_self">wrote about her work</a> in child trafficking just over a year ago. Tragically, since that time, the situation for these children has only gotten worse, in large part because of QAnon.</p><p>Williams says child trafficking is an easy cause to rally people together. Fear is also a powerful unifying force, one that QAnon believers are already primed for via the news they consume. Almost every parent cares about their children, making them the ideal target to solidify groups. </p><p>The real problem, she says, is that the youth she works with are falling for these conspiracy theories. Trauma is a particularly powerful tool for indoctrination. If you're a teenager that's been abducted or abused, your trust level is already extremely low. Then you read about a global cabal of powerful men (and a few women) secretly abusing children, and the narrative seems ready-made for your personal history.</p><p>When Williams tried to "lovingly and kindly correct" the youth she was working with after learning about the Wayfair conspiracy, the girls' response was, "well, who owns the media?" </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"She goes from this small little thing to a QAnon talking point. I've been thinking about why she would believe such a preposterous idea—and there are others; it's not just one student, and they're in in deep. I think that when something horrific happens to you as a child, it's a lot easier to distance yourself from the immediate reality that it was an uncle or a parent or a sibling that hurt you. By detaching from that immediate person, they project it onto Bill Gates or Chrissy Teigen. Then it's not so personal, it's global." </p>
A man wear a shirt with the words Q Anon as he attends a rally for President Donald Trump at the Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images<p>As Williams mentions, there are over 30,000 kids in foster care in the Los Angeles area alone. It's easy to fall through the cracks. The systems in place aren't perfect; they're certainly underfunded. When you're in a system trying to support you yet isn't capable of doing so, viewing the world as imperfect, and even harmful, becomes the lens through which you see reality. Again, this makes for a perfect indoctrination tool.</p><p>One popular QAnon talking point is that 800,000 children are missing. As Williams says, child trafficking experts "don't buy this for a minute." The number makes for a good meme but a poor representation of the problem. </p><p>To source better data, Williams turns to the <a href="https://www.missingkids.org/" target="_blank">National Center for Missing and Exploited Children</a> (NCMEC) and the <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ncic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Crime Information Center</a> (NCIC). An important factor when reading data: if a teacher <em>and</em> a caregiver report a missing child to NCIC, that counts as two children, not one, which accounts for some of the fluctuations in numbers. In total, between 25,000 and 29,000 kids go missing every year. Importantly, 94 percent of those children are recovered within four to six weeks. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They're not documenting the recovery rate. It's not like these numbers are perpetually hanging out there. So this 800,000 number is just ludicrous." </p><p>Williams compares what's going on to Black Lives Matter. Blacking out your Instagram profile picture is performative. It signals that you actually care, which is great, but if you're not supporting Black-owned businesses, for example, there are no teeth to your activism. </p><p>Of course, blacking out your profile doesn't cause the real-world harm the QAnon virus does. Sharing misinformation is ultimately harmful to the children in need of help. Williams offers the resources below—ranging from donations to nonprofits to educational trainings to becoming a foster parent—for people that actually want to do something to help victims of sexual and physical abuse. They might not make a great Twitter meme, but in the actual world, this support makes all the difference. </p><p><strong>To report abuse/neglect, call the child abuse hotline: 800.540.4000 (LA county) / 800.422.4453 (National)</strong></p><ul><li>Support anti-trafficking organizations by donating to <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://savinginnocence.org/" target="_blank">Saving Innocence</a>, which runs the continuum of care from rescue to recovery, <a href="http://gozoe.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Zoe</a>, a reputable faith-based organization, and <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="https://withtwowings.org/" target="_blank">Two Wings</a>, which helps to rehabilitate female survivors</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://www.nolabrantleyspeaks.org/" target="_blank">Nola Brantley</a> offers in-person and online trainings to help combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://instagram.com/imrebeccabender" target="_blank">Rebecca Bender</a> is a trafficking survivor that runs "Myth Busters," which combats conspiracy theory disinformation</li><li>The <a href="https://www.instagram.com/missingkids/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Center</a> of Missing and Exploited Children</li><li>Operation <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ourrescue/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Underground Railroad </a></li><li><a href="https://www.instagram.com/defendinnocence/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Defend Innocence</a> offers tips for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe</li></ul><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>